But since the 1980s, spring snowmelt in Siberia has begun arriving half a day earlier per year. The insects now emerge, reproduce, and die before the little nodes can hatch. Many young birds suffer from malnutrition and die before they learn to fly. Those that have managed to reach Africa are 20 percent smaller and lighter than those measured there in the early 1980s.
More importantly, their beaks, which they use to find shellfish buried in the mud of African beaches, are also shorter – too short to reach the shellfish they need to survive. And so the nodes die. Half a million people were counted in a muddy bay in Mauritania 40 years ago. By 2022, 400,000 of them had disappeared. It’s all about correlations: The too-warm spring air on the shores of the Arctic Ocean, 5,000 miles away, is killing birds in West Africa.
Again and again, Wells opens the windows to this kind of redirection and unsettling beauty. In each case, sophisticated precision meets and succumbs to the inadvertent foolishness of global warming. Wells doesn’t like the term “climate change.” He prefers the phrase “global strangeness,” a phrase that, he says, “conveys the novelty and strangeness of the climate crisis.”
Wells is wary of the anthropomorphic trap. He does not react to the suffering of hungry chicks or lost dolphins. There is something broader here than the failure of individual lives: a world in the mad state of drawing its power from itself. But self-control can itself be moving.
It describes the plight of the iguaca, the endangered green parrot in Puerto Rico. Under human hands, its forests have withered, and thanks to global warming, hurricanes are wetter and more destructive than ever. In the wild, the iguacas had a rich and eloquent language, full of nudges and suggestions by which the herd would escape predators and find food. After conservationists, concerned about the parrot’s future, took some of the eggs and raised the chicks at a rescue center, the human-reared parrots were released back into the wild. But they returned like Kaspar Howitzers—diminished, inarticulate, and separated, never having learned the language of the tribe. And when the wild birds were almost completely killed off in a series of hurricanes, the language itself died.
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